Showing posts from February, 2017


I suppose I shouldn’t be at all surprised about what I read on Facebook, given the measures being currently rolled out to combat “fake news” articles, but what surprised me more was an advertisement that appeared in the middle of the long procession of updates from family members and work colleagues. Somehow, Facebook’s data and algorithms suggested I read an article, first published by “The New York Times” in October 2016, titled “Is It OK to Find Sexual Satisfaction Outside Your Marriage?” The article turned out to be the from the newspaper’s problem page, which also answered a query about smoking after beginning a new health insurance policy. I certainly didn’t need to read it – it’s not a case of, “she doth protest too much,” I’m just not married, and I don’t smoke – but it made me wonder what it was about me, or my associates, that made Facebook suggest this to me. An algorithm is not “artificial intelligence,” in which case it would have known better, but all it had to g


Once upon a time, we had a television that was made in our home town – in fact, we had two. They were black-and-white portable televisions made by Ferguson, a major employer in Gosport, Hampshire, and a division of the enormous Thorn-EMI corporation. The cathode ray tube in one TV gave up one day, but the other hung on for a very long time: when the on-off-volume switch fell off, it was replaced by the end of a used chapstick, jammed into the hole to serve for nearly a full decade. Colour television arrived in my bedroom when both progress, and a Christmas, replaced the Ferguson with a portable Bush TV. It turns out that this coming Monday, 20 th February, is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the closing of the Ferguson factory, which has since become a business park. The US conglomerate Cyanamid, once owners of brands as disparate as Old Spice and Formica, had a pharmaceutical plant down the road, but it has since moved out, the factory knocked down. The remaining mass employe


Last week, planning my article about a possible “bias against understanding” in 1970s TV journalism – still much more engaging than it sounds – I did what I usually do, talking about what I had in mind with a couple of people at work. Going through the bits of information I had, I was surprised when one section, later deemed superfluous to the rest of the article, got a laugh at the end. Thinking about it afterwards, I had introduced an idea of something, presented it in the right order, and added a punchline to it. I am not someone who thinks of themselves as someone who can tell a joke, and have never gone out of my way to write one. However, recognising a skill to be developed, here is that excised section from last week, plus two other observations from the last week. 1) When the BBC merged its News and Current Affairs departments together, Current Affairs moved out of its centre, based in another part of London. Formerly the Gaumont-British Studios, where Alfre


[John Birt, with Mick Jagger, for "World in Action"] Once upon a time, in a United Kingdom riven with economic and social problems, and questions over our future relationship with Europe, people began looking at how the news was not informing us in the way we needed, to help us understand and solve our problems. I could be talking about Brexit, “fake news” and “alternative facts,” but the year is actually 1975, marked in Britain by high inflation, social unrest and voting to remain in the Common Market. Like now, it was people within the news companies themselves talking about how to properly reflect what was happening. The key arguments were published in a series of articles in “The Times,” in 1975-76, and we co-written by its Economics Editor, Peter Jay, with the Head of Current Affairs for London Weekend Television, John Birt. Birt was also responsible for LWT’s political discussion show “Weekend World,” which was presented by Jay. If you can find these artic